For the last seven years, Samantha Bee has played “herself” as a Daily Show correspondent. But her actual personality has little in common with her cocksure onscreen news persona. In Bee’s hilarious new memoir, I Know I Am, But What Are You?, she shares her childhood memories of being shuttled between a grandmother and divorced parents, her experience working in an erectile-dysfunction clinic, and, as a teenager, how she stole cars for cash to throw lavish parties. (Oh, and she met her husband, fellow Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones, while touring with a wretched kids theater production of Sailor Moon.) We recently spoke to Bee about pornography, the Daily Show story that made her cry, and how she single-handedly ended Law & Order.
In older interviews, when answering the question of how you and Jason met, you mentioned a children’s show but never revealed the name. Now, it’s out there: Sailor Moon.
Oh my God, it was such a humiliating experience. When we got married, I spoke to everyone who was speaking at our wedding and I made them agree not to talk about Sailor Moon, because I just couldn’t handle it. This book is completely and utterly ridiculous and it was not therapeutic in any way — except for that one thing. Now I can totally talk about it! I have to! I’m finally able to let it go. [Laughs.] Thank. You. All.
Are there any moments in the book in which worried you might have gone too far?
I didn’t want the book to be a takedown of my parents and my family. I was worried writing about my mom, that she would come across in a way I didn’t want her to — people walking away from the book going, “What a horrible mother.” That’s not how I see her. I thought, Is it okay for people to know that we had lots of pornography laying around and that it was no big deal in our home and that she actively let me look at it when I was a little kid? Is that too much? But in the end, I don’t think it’s too much. Pornography made me who I am today.
You seemed to have an almost compulsive relationship with food at an early age. When did that start?
I don’t know, maybe it’s always been there. It continues to this day. I used to do this thing when I was a kid where every time I’d eat a meal, I’d read a cookbook to accompany my meal. Like I was trying to imagine a much better meal than what I was actually participating in the eating of.
The press notes for the book mention you’re the most senior correspondent on The Daily Show. After so many interviews, are you still surprised by how people react to you?
Every segment is different; there’s no possible way to get bored with the job. And there’s no way to feel completely comfortable, because you’re always dealing with so many X-factors. You don’t know how you’re going to be greeted; you still have to get them to say what you need them to say to get the job done. I always feel squeamish going into an interview; it doesn’t matter who it is. It’s a little easier than it used to be, but it doesn’t mean it’s easy.
Do people try to be funny because they know it’s The Daily Show?
Oh yeah, it’s dreadful. [Laughs.] We try to curb that impulse.
Do you have a favorite segment that you’ve done?
There was a piece I did at the last Republican convention, about the word “choice.” It was a series of man-on-the-street brief interviews. Actually, when we screened it in front of the audience, nobody was laughing, but there was this building tension, you could just feel it. Then, at the crescendo of the piece, everybody had this catharsis at the same time. I cried, actually. But it was such a good feeling. Then I felt sad because then I remembered that [Republicans] are still trying to mess with reproductive rights. Anyway. [Laughs.]
Have you been contacted about stories you’ve done after the fact?
Occasionally, not really. More often than you’d think, people contact us and say they enjoy what we did. I did get a personal letter once that says, “You’re a disgusting person.” [Laughs.] I have it pinned up to my board. I didn’t even interview that person. He just didn’t like me.
The show’s gotten a lot of attention for its breakout stars: Ed Helms, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carell. But the female correspondents have yet to have a breakthrough star.
Well, not everything is going to be a launchpad for everybody. I don’t have delusions of grandeur, I really just want to be a working actor for much of the rest of my life. When you become huge, it’s such a weird alchemy that makes that happen: the intersection of talent and opportunity in a really strange way. It can happen to anyone, and then it can happen to no one.
Have you spoken to Olivia Munn, the new addition to the team, about the job?
Yes, we actually had a little meeting about that today because she’s going to go out on a field piece. But there’s absolutely no way to communicate what the job entails until you actually do it. You can try, but until you’re actually doing it, it is really just one of those situations where you have to do it again and again and again to get comfortable with it. Even then, you’re still gonna sweat.
As the self-proclaimed, “pregnant correspondent” —
Yeah, I’m huge. I’m like a baby rhino. I’m just getting pity looks from people now, no friendly, “Oh, look at you!” Everyone’s just like, “God, are you okay?”
How have your children affected your work?
I don’t think they have, except maybe for the better. You don’t worry as much about your work because you have other things to worry about, and when you don’t worry as much, you do better work. You can’t go home and navel-gaze. It makes your working time somehow more meaningful. You have to focus a lot.
Did you enjoy shooting your role in an episode of Law & Order earlier this year?
God, I loved doing it. And I killed the franchise. I’m taking all the blame for that. It’s fine; I’m not a good dramatic actor, I get it. I’m sorry. No Emmys this year. When I was doing it, I was being really serious and thinking, This is really good. I’m doing a good dramatic job right now. And after every shot, people would come up to me and be like, “That was really funny! Good job!” I had no idea what they were getting at.